Students and professors packed the room and spilled into the hallway at the Faculty of Arts and Science Council meeting on Monday, where the council voted to implement program flat fees. Critics spoke up against the proposal, but they were left disappointed when they didn’t get a chance to address faculty dean Meric Gertler’s rebuttals to their comments. Student leaders also panned Gertler’s last-minute change to the proposal’s implementation for next year.

Program flat fees mean that starting in 2011, new full-time Arts and Science students would have to pay for five courses when they take three to six courses. Part-timers would pay on a per-course basis.

The highly contested fees came before the Program Fee Implementation Committee—a group struck by Gertler, comprised of one student, 11 admin and one faculty member soon to become a vice-provost—in March.

According to Arts and Science Students’ Union president Colum Grove-White, the group’s student rep, the only thing the committee decided was that flat fees would not begin in September. The proposal has been pushed to the forefront since then. UTM representative on the committee, Diane Crocker did not confirm tihs, but said that the satellite campuses decided not to implement the proposal owing to lack of research. Gertler said he did not know whether or not the committee had reached such a conclusion, because he wasn’t on it.

“I tried to work within the system,” said Grove-White. “But then they cheat you.”

On Monday, the Faculty of Arts and Science council was supposed to vote on the original flat fees proposal, which would affect new students taking three courses or more. But in a last-minute move, Meric Gertler, Faculty of Arts and Science Dean, announced he had upped the cutoff to four courses for 2009.

“He talked more than anyone in the meeting. We didn’t even get to vote on the amendments to the proposal,” Grove-White said.

When Grove-White called the point out of order, arguing that new information had been presented, the chair of the meeting replied that the change occurred in the implementation of the motion, not its wording.

“It’s really suspicious that Gertler came in and changed it at the last minute,” said David Scrivener, vice-president external of the U of T Students’ Union.

Gertler has already been criticized for rushed timing: research into flat fees only started in June 2008. The U of T community found out two weeks ago.

“We made a decision in the first week of March, when it became clear that our financial situation was quite severe, and wasn’t going to get any better,” said Gertler. Arts and Science is facing a $5 to $7 million deficit this year.

Cell and systems biology professor Mounir Abouhaidar said at the meeting that flat fees tackled financial realities and not academic ones. “One reason [that people are not enrolled in a full course-load] is because they need the money, and they need to work part-time,” said Abouhaidar. “Another reason is some of the students, if they take a full course-load, are not going to be able to handle it.”

Meric said the argument was “unhelpful” and presented a “false dichotomy” between academics and finance. Abouhaidar was visibly frustrated that he did not get a chance to respond. “If the dean had promised to put $2 million back in scholarships for the needy, out of the $10 million net profit per year, I would have supported it,” he told The Varsity.

“Essentially what the faculty is focusing on is the finances, because they are short of money, and they want to recover the money. This is not really the right way, but it is the easy way.”

During the last two weeks, Grove-White has been lobbying voting faculty members to vote down the proposal.

“At the meeting, some of the faculty members saw the temporary four-course cutoff as a compromise. But it’s not, you’re prolonging the demise of student life for two years,” said Grove-White.

In a last attempt, Grove-White and St. Mike’s registrar Damon Chevrier proposed an amendment to the motion. “Instead of moving to full implementation in 2011, I asked them to review the document and vote on it again,” Grove-White said.

That motion was defeated by a vote of 20 to 26.

With files from Naushad Ali Husein